How to Make Life Transitions Easier
Ending a chapter feels less upsetting when we have a well-rounded ending.
Divorce. Empty nests. Retirement. Major life transitions like these can be emotionally arduous, but many times, liberating. After all, if handled well, a big life change can open up new doors for opportunities. A recent study from New York University looks at how a “well rounded ending” is especially key when it comes to positive feelings about whatever chapter comes next.
“We examined methods that could help people find a good start to a new job, a new relationship, or a new home,” wrote the study’s lead author, NYU psychology professor Gabriele Oettingen. The research looked at seven previous studies on more than 1,200 people, and found that across all of them, well rounded endings were associated with positive transition. For example, feeling little regret and less concern over “missing out.”
“Ending the various phases in our lives in a well-rounded way seems to be an important building block for sustaining emotional, interpersonal, and professional happiness,” wrote Oettingen in the study. Well, okay, but what is a well-rounded ending?
Subjects who felt they had done everything they could have done, have completed something to the fullest, and that all loose ends are tied up—those were the people who felt the happiest later. Closure could be represented by something like throwing a retirement party or taking time to say visit an old friend before moving out of town.
Not only were people happier with their new chapter if they had finished an old one with a satisfactory sense of punctuation, they also showed better cognitive functioning. Think of it this way: You wrap up a phone conversation, and say goodbye, versus having a phone conversation that is abruptly interrupted with a “gotta go!” on the other line. Which makes you feel flustered? The latter. Things like executive function skills and attention suffer when we feel suddenly cut off.
If you have a major life transition looming, think about ways to create a sense of closure and completion before moving on to the next path in your journey. In some ways, according to this research, we can all make our own happy endings.